HOLIDAY ROAD TRIPS: Fun-filled Christmas attractions are just a short drive away

Once again, Santa will swim with sharks and listen to what his little visitors want for Christmas at the Newport Aquarium. CONTRIBUTED
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Once again, Santa will swim with sharks and listen to what his little visitors want for Christmas at the Newport Aquarium. CONTRIBUTED

In the age of COVID-19, the urge to get out and enjoy the holidays, even if it involves a little travel, is perhaps more potent than ever. Although we’ve had our fair share of cancellations this year, there are still several must-see holiday attractions in Cincinnati, Columbus, and even Louisville, Ky.

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Here are some of the cool events that are worth a road trip, along with the safety measures put in place to keep everyone safe.

CINCINNATI

Scuba Santa’s Water Wonderland

This annual tradition combines Santa with one of Cincinnati’s most popular destinations, the Newport Aquarium. Santa will swim with sharks and listen to what his little visitors want for Christmas. There will be a few jolly elves as well. Check it out at the Newport Aquarium, 1 Aquarium Way, Newport, Ky., through Dec. 24. Admission is $25.99 and special child pricing is available. For more information, including hours, call 859-261-7444 or visit www.newportaquarium.com.

COVID-19 Measures: There will be limited capacity and advance reservations are required. All visitors aged 3 and older must wear a mask. Employees will be masked, and temperatures will be taken of everyone entering the building. High-touch surfaces will be sanitized regularly, and hand sanitizing stations will be available. Social distancing markers, queues and signage will be in place.

Coney Island Christmas lights (WCPO)
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Coney Island Christmas lights (WCPO)

Christmas Nights of Lights at Coney Island

Cincinnati’s largest light show features one million lights synchronized to traditional and modern Christmas music that plays through your car radio as you drive through. Check it out at Coney Island, 6201 Kellogg Ave., Cincinnati, through Jan. 9. Daily hours are dusk to 10 p.m. with extended hours on weekends. Admission is $7 per person and children aged 3 and younger are admitted free. If you have a group greater than 10 people, please contact the office. For more information, call (513) 232-8230 or visit www.coneyislandpark.com.

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You'll find brightly lit hippos and other zoo favorites at the PNC Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo. BOB UNDERWOOD/STAFF
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You'll find brightly lit hippos and other zoo favorites at the PNC Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo. BOB UNDERWOOD/STAFF

PNC Festival of Lights

This annual Cincinnati holiday classic will look a little different this year, but you’ll still have the North Polar Express Train Ride, the Wild Lights show over Swan Lake, snacks at the S’Mores-And-More stands and, of course, more than four million LED lights. Check it out at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, 3400 Vine St., Cincinnati, through Jan. 3 (with a handful of bonus nights beyond that). The zoo is open from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. and festival activities start at 4 p.m. Admission is $12 to $22.50 for adults and $7 to $16.50 for students and seniors. Parking is an additional $10. For more information, call 513-281-4700 or visit www.cincinnatizoo.org.

COVID-19 Measures: Reservations are required, as are masks in all areas. Santa will be available for socially distanced visits starting at 4 p.m. on Dec. 23. There will be limited capacity, social distancing markers, touchless entry, hand sanitizer stations, and high-touch areas will be sanitized regularly.

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Ice Skating at Fountain Square

Fountain Square is the closest Ohioans can get to a Times Square experience. Skate or ride bumper cars under the picturesque shadow of the Cincinnati skyline and the big LED board broadcasting sports and local programming. Fountain Square is stocked with top-notch bars and restaurants, so feel free to grab dinner and a cocktail afterward. Check it out at Fountain Square, 520 Vine St., Cincinnati, through Feb. 15. The rink is open seven days a week. Admission is $10 for skating only and $15 for bumper cars and skating. Children 4 and younger are admitted free. For more information, including session times, call (513) 621-4400 or visit www.myfountainsquare.com/ice-rink.

COVID-19 Measures: Advance reservations are required, and masks must be worn at all times. There will be a limit of 80 patrons on the ice at all times.

Holiday Junction featuring the Duke Energy Holiday Trains is on view at the Cincinnati Museum Center through Jan. 3, 2021. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
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Holiday Junction featuring the Duke Energy Holiday Trains is on view at the Cincinnati Museum Center through Jan. 3, 2021. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit:

Credit:

Holiday Junction Featuring the Duke Energy Trains

A holiday staple since 1946, kids get track-level views of 300 rail cars and 60 locomotives zooming through a North Pole-inspired landscape. Also featured is a Northern Lights show designed for family photos, Brickopolis, or LEGO recreations of scenes from Marvel, DC Comics, Disney, and Harry Potter, visits from Santa, interactive storytelling, and the Omnimax film, “Rocky Mountain Express,” where you explore the Canadian Rockies via steam locomotive. Check it out at the Cincinnati Museum Center, 1301 Western Ave., Cincinnati, through Jan. 3. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. Tickets are $10.50-$14.50. Children 2 and younger are admitted free. For more information, call (513) 287-7000 or visit www.cincymuseum.org.

COVID-19 Measures: The riding train has been replaced by the Holiday Scavenger Hunt. There will be severely reduced capacity and some of the exhibits will be closed. Masks are required except for health reasons. There will be social distancing markers, hand sanitizing stations will be available throughout, and high-touch areas will be cleaned regularly.

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Holiday in Lights at Sharon Woods

This drive-through light show takes you through one mile of wooded roadway through one of Hamilton County’s most beautiful parks. There are over one million lights and 250 light displays, featuring everything from Santa and his elves to the animals of Noah’s Ark. Due to COVID-19, all tickets must be purchased online. Check it out at Sharon Woods, 11450 Lebanon Road, Sharonville, through Jan. 2. Hours are 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are $15 (cars, trucks, and SUVs), $45 (buses) and $5 (walking). For more information, call 513-769-0393 or visit www.holidayinlights.com.

Winter Market at Washington Park

This weekly weekend market features regional vendors and crafters that change from week to week. Concessions, beer, wine, and hot drinks will also be available for purchase. Check it out at Washington Park, 1230 Elm St., Cincinnati, through Dec. 20. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, except for Dec. 12 when the City Flea Night Market joins and hours are extended to 9 p.m. There is no admission cost.

COVID-19 Measures: Everyone must be masked and practice social distancing.

Winter Nights, River Lights

This socially distanced holiday family walk takes place on the Purple People Bridge, a pedestrian bridge connecting the Cincinnati skyline and Newport on the Levee crossing the Ohio River. Enjoy the 1,000 lights, lighted projections, and holiday music. On the Newport side of the bridge, there’s a Wish Tree. The Purple People Bridge can be accessed via Newport on the Levee and Sawyer Point. The lights will glow through Jan. 15. There is no admission cost. The walk takes place through Jan. 10from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Notable cancellations/alternatives: The Downtown Dazzle at Fountain Square, WinterFest at King’s Island, and the Krohn Conservatory light show are all canceled in 2020. The Cincinnati Ballet and the Playhouse in the Park will be offering virtual content. The Cincinnati Pops and the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company are shut down completely until 2021.

COLUMBUS

State Auto Christmas Center and Life-Sized Nativity

Since 1932, State Auto Insurance in downtown Columbus has staged a life-sized Nativity Scene and other activities. Due to COVID-19, there will be no annual lighting ceremony, weekend musical performances, or Christmas Eve ceremony. But people can still come to be fully immersed in this telling of Christ’s birth, which is famous for its attention to artistic and historic detail. The display also includes a rooftop Santa town and Christmas trees. Check it out at 518 E. Broad St., Columbus, through Jan. 4. Hours are 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, visit www.stateauto.com/christmas.

COVID-19 Measures: Masks and social distancing are required of everyone.

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Holiday Lights Downtown Columbus

After dark, the John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons in downtown Columbus is illuminated by 400,000 lights. Wandering the six-acre paths between brilliantly lit trees, then grabbing something to eat and drink at any one of several unique local bars/restaurants is a fine way to spend an evening. Check it out at 160 S. High St., Columbus, through Jan. 3. The display is open daily from dusk to 11 p.m. There is no admission cost. For more information, visit www.columbuscommons.org.

COVID-19 Measures: The carousel will be closed, and there will be no concessions or restrooms in the park. Due to the park’s natural spacing, visitors are simply asked to maintain social distancing.

Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
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Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

Credit: Grahm S. Jones

Credit: Grahm S. Jones

Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

The Columbus Zoo & Aquarium will feature several animated light displays set to music: “Candela: The Evolution of Light” and “Holiday Cheer” in Adventure Cove, “Holiday Rhythms Around the Watering Hole” at Conservation Park, and “Jingle Ball” at Shores Play Park. There will also be a socially distanced S’Mores experience, a Santa visit, and camel rides. Also, you can ride the Polar Bear Express or just watch the beloved film, “The Polar Express,” in 4K. Check it out at 4850 Powell Road, Powell, through Jan. 3. Hours are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are $11.99-$21.99. Several Wildlights activities carry a small additional cost. For more information, call 614-645-3400 or visit www.columbuszoo.org.

COVID-19 Measures: All visitors over 10 years old and medically able must wear masks. Reservations for the Santa Experience must be made in advance. Conversations with Santa and photos will be socially distanced.

Holiday Bricktacular

This indoor LEGO playground with two rides, a movie theater, and 10 LEGO-themed zones will be holding its annual Holiday Bricktacular. Activities include a LEGO Santa meet-and-greet, a gingerbread-themed creative workshop build, a holiday miniland takeover, minifigure trading, and a gingerbread winter village build table. Check it out at the Legoland Discovery Center, 157 Easton Town Center, Columbus, through Jan. 3. Tickets are $19.99 to $74.99. For more information, call 614-407-7721 or visit Columbus.legolanddiscoverycenter.com.

COVID-19 Measures: All visitors 6 and older must wear masks unless they have a medical condition. Employees will be wearing extensive PPE. LEGO bricks and attractions are sanitized regularly. There is limited capacity and social distancing signage. Hand sanitizing stations are available throughout.

The Conservatory Aglow holiday exhibition at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus.
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The Conservatory Aglow holiday exhibition at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus.

Credit: Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Credit: Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Conservatory Aglow at Franklin Park Conservatory

This award-winning light display will illuminate winter nights at the Franklin Park Conservatory. There will be familiar favorites such as the rainbow tunnel, the ornament trees, “Starry Night” in the bonsai garden, “Winter Wonderland” in the sculpture garden, and much more. There is also a new “Candyland” scene, featuring a life-sized gingerbread house and a magical train display. Check it out at Franklin Park Conservatory, 1777 E. Broad St., Columbus, through Jan. 10. Hours are 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. nightly. Tickets are $12 to $22. For more information, call 614-715-8000 or visit www.fpconservatory.org.

COVID-19 Measures: All visitors over the age of 6 must be masked, indoors and outdoors. The Conservatory will close every day at 4 p.m. to clean up for when Aglow begins at 5 p.m. There is limited capacity and all tickets must be purchased in advance. There will be social distancing markers and visitors are asked only to come with members of their household.

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WonderLights’ Christmas in Ohio

One of the largest Christmas light displays is a two-mile drive-through experience past trees, gingerbread men, shooting stars, tunnels, and dancing candy canes, all decorated in over a million LED lights. Check it out at National Trail Raceway, 2650 National Road SW, Hebron, through Jan. 3, open nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 to $100. For more information, visit www.wonderlightschristmas.com.

Notable cancellations/alternatives: After initially turning their Dickens of a Christmas into a Dickens of a Drive Thru, the Ohio History Connection decided to cancel the event altogether and will offer alternative virtual programming instead. Shadowbox Live’s annual theatrical show, “Holiday Hoopla” will be streaming online. Balletmet is offering a virtual “Nutcracker” package that includes not only favorite scenes but also behind-the-scenes footage, self-guided scavenger hunts, musical playlists, and themed puzzles, crafts, and dances. The 12 Elves of Dublin Scavenger Hunt is canceled.

Lights Under Louisville
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Lights Under Louisville

LOUISVILLE

Lights Under Louisville

Lights Under Louisville is the only underground holiday light show in the world, taking place in the Louisville MEGA Cavern, a former limestone mine-turned-entertainment park. The 30-minute drive-through features 850 lit characters and over three million lights. You can drive your own vehicle or buy a seat on the open-top Christmas Express and just relax and watch. The Louisville MEGA Cavern is located at 1841 Taylor Ave., Louisville, Ky. Lights Under Louisville is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. until Dec. 25, with reduced hours from Dec. 26-Jan. 3. Tickets are $29.99 (regular passenger vehicle) to $139.99. For more information, visit www.lightsunderlouisville.com.

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Village Christmas Market

Westport Village is Louisville’s premier shopping destination, with over 40 locally owned boutiques, restaurants, and other services located in a historic neighborhood. The Village Christmas Market is an outdoor market in Westport that’s open daily during the holiday season through Dec. 20. Enjoy smoked nuts, charcuterie boxes, chocolates, and warm beverages as you browse the unique vendors. The market is open noon to 7 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. There is no admission cost. For more information, visit www.westportvillage.com.

COVID-19 Measures: Masks are required at all times and there are hand sanitizing stations throughout. Visitors are asked to maintain social distancing.